Why 2019 will be about building intelligence

Our cities are getting busier and consequently, more expensive. Urban space — not only here in Amsterdam — has long been a valuable asset, limited in availability and therefore costly. This scarcity of space in our cities has lead to higher costs for office space and this trickles down to how much space companies plan per workspace. Consequently, space available per employee shrinks. According to one study, 5% of space per employee compared to the 5 year average was lost in the Americas, and in Europe it dropped by 2.3%.

From the perspective of a property manager, ever increasing costs for maintenance and upgrades in office buildings add to the mix — hence the need for companies to get smarter at utilising their real estate. Corporate Real Estate managers now collect plenty of data to understand how available space is used to proactively optimise and keep costs at a minimum.

Are offices really getting busier? And what are the effects of trends like working from home and activity-based working? Is IoT the holy grail to solve it all?

Needless to say, for me being a trained architect, the whole spectrum of smart building technology represents an incredible opportunity. After some fun years involved in data-driven decision making on city and mobility level with Mapbox Cities, I’m back in my home court:

Connecting available data points to actionable insights in order to use our built environment smarter and more efficiently, utilising technology not for the sake of it, but with the end user in mind.

To do just that, I’ve joined the Amsterdam based team at Lone Rooftop, a building intelligence solution with focus on office and education portfolios, looking after UX Design and Research. Below a few thoughts on why I’m excited.

Upgrading existing buildings

Paradoxically, despite the earlier mentioned trend in decreasing space per employee, as much as 46% of office spaces goes unused according to another study.

Understanding how efficiently space is used, should be possible using IoT sensors, to pinpoint exactly when and how a particular room is used.

Although the Internet of Things gets a lot of credit these days, one big issue with IoT seems the still relatively high up-front investment required to deploy 1000s of sensors to upgrade huge real estate portfolios. The system Lone Rooftop is using relies on utilizing existing Wifi infrastructure which promise faster results at a fraction of the up-front costs. The system allows for adding IoT sensors gradually or only in parts of the building where Wifi doesn’t bring acceptable results.

Via Unsplash.com

Energy saving

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. Numbers for the US are similar, but particularly Europeans are exploring how buildings can be run more sustainably. A report by Rochester Institute of Technology estimates that measures to increase heating and cooling efficiency in commercial properties could save $600M in the UK alone.

Building intelligence technology and data analytics allow to understand utilization and demand and therefore limit energy consumption through concepts like demand-driven HVAC. As the name suggests, demand-driven includes the utilization of various spaces across a building in real-time, as a driver for heating, ventilation and air con tech based on demand. After all, why should we pay for the heating in the whole building if most of the team works from home on Fridays?

A better occupant experience

Isn’t the modern office more than just the small talk at the coffee machine or the water cooler? There should be plenty of technology to choose from to optimize our time in the office and be more productive — or is the opposite true?

This study confirms that a productive work environment, that removes frustrations leads to happier employees, that stay longer. Moreover, a productive work environment in buildings that use latest available technology helps to attract top talent. In many places, the facility management profession is therefore getting a face lift, it’s not just about managing cleaners and burst pipes anymore — it’s about facilitating a better employee experience.

Via Unsplash.com

In today’s office, productivity blockers are wasting time to find a free flex desk or a meeting room — and building intelligence technology can help address those. According to the Senion Office Worker Survey, “4 in 10 office workers spend as much as 60 minutes every week searching for available desks, conference rooms, or colleagues.”

That people feel distracted working in open plan offices should be old news by now. In fact, 80 percent of those surveyed here, didn’t cite Snapchat as top distractions, but chatty coworkers and noise. Understanding how busy a part of the building is before an employee gets there, or better, knowing where to find a quiet space to work right now, will be a vital feature for employees working in modern offices.

“Looking forward, businesses are increasingly recognizing the link between the working environment and human capital, and ascribing value to a positive employee experience.” according to McKinsey.

Intelligent buildings and the user experience

“Although room for further cost improvement remains, user experience is rapidly emerging as the next focus.”

McKinsey recognises how these trends all converge into a focus on the experience of the user — the user of the building, or in corporate offices more specifically the experience of employees.

Data analytics and a focus on user experience will play a huge role for tools that aim to offer more controls to the users of a space and highlight the economic and ecologic consequences of utilising space in a more responsible fashion.


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